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Published On: Fri, Oct 24th, 2014

Against all odds, an ode to Jonathan

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JonathanI was scared to the marrow when the first case of Ebola involving a Liberian-American diplomat David Sawyer manifested in Nigeria in June. I thought we were finished. I said to myself, God what did Nigeria do to deserve these tragedies? Boko Haram terrorism is battering us and threatening the unity of the nation, corruption is gnawing at our economic wellbeing and stunting the nation’s growth. And now Ebola has come to finally take the nation to Golgotha.

In declaring Nigeria Ebola-free country, World Health Organization (WHO) said “the lines on the tabular situation reports, sent to WHO each day by its country office in Nigeria, have now been full of zeros for 42 days”. According to WHO, “this is a spectacular success story that shows that Ebola can be contained” and that Nigeria ended what could have been “the most explosive Ebola outbreak imaginable”. Amazing!

However, the origin of Ebola and the ways of contracting the virus should not be attributed to Africa and African culture alone. In July, the United States Embassy in Nigeria released a statement explaining the ways of contracting Ebola virus. “It is important to note that the likelihood of contracting any viral hemorrhagic fever (VHF), including Ebola, is considered extremely low unless there has been direct contact with the body fluids of symptomatic infected persons or animals or with objects that have been contaminated by body fluids”, said the statement. The US embassy also said inter alia, “transmission to humans is thought to originate from infected bats or primates that have become infected by bats. Undercooked infected bat and primate (bush) meat (also) transmits the virus to humans”.

Whenever Western countries fret over Ebola, alluding to Africa as the genesis of the virus, I shook my head. How could you counsel Africans on how to cook bush meat or food generally? Meat is always cooked at high temperature in Africa. Abi? Aren’t we those who grill bush meat to almost charcoal stage? Typical Africans don’t normally eat half-fried eggs — it even nauseates me. Some of us vomit when we are lured to eat Sushi. Imagine the open fire we subject Ofada rice to. Compare and contrast Ofada rice with Uncle Ben’s. Which is undercooked and which is overcooked? I always go for Jollof rice given the fact that fried rice is carelessly cooked — or undercooked as they say. All Western food tastes ‘half done’ to me.

Again, I wonder why the source of this disease should be exclusively Africa in view of the fact that Westerners, not Africans, kiss donkey, hug monkey, osculate pig, peck sloth and even have sex with dog. Why would they only tell us eating undercooked bush meat or body contact with infected primate is the cause of Ebola while they make French kiss with rat when they keep it as pet? Anyway, this is just a different gist. And don’t label me a conspiracy theorist.

Taming Ebola in Nigeria is a good lesson that tells everyone that government’s commitment is key to attaining result and achieving sustainable development. In whatever a situation, government’s commitment is always the antidote, the elixir that gives life to a dying system. But the highest form of hypocrisy is federal government taking the credit of containing the spread of Ebola, while blaming the opposition politicians or Northern elders for the spread of Boko Haram terrorism. Much as federal government flaunts the credit of Ebola containment in its scorecard, it must as well take the blame for Boko Haram.

Addressing the nation on Independence Day, President Jonathan said if Nigerians were united in fighting terrorism as they were in fighting Ebola, the former would have been history. What kind of “unity” is Mr President talking about? I really don’t understand. All I know is that Nigerians are not supporting bombings and killings. Civilian JTF and vigilante groups in Borno and Yobe States are even complementing the efforts of the army. Most state governments are spending a lot on security without waiting for federal government’s intervention.

Actually, the fact that Nigeria overcame this difficulty is beyond me. Forgive my rehash. I had always wondered how could Nigeria battle Ebola at the same time we are battling polio, HIV/AIDS, leprosy, perennial outbreak of cholera and measles, etc? With our broken healthcare system and underequipped hospitals, eradicating Ebola was near impossible. Remember, at the time of the Sawyer incident, doctors were on a nationwide strike. At time we started recording deaths, doctors were sacked. At the incubation period, suspected patients disappeared from quarantine centres.

Of course national health emergency was declared and school resumption date was postponed, measures were taken at our entry points and borders but that enough could not solve this conundrum. What then is the secret? Commitment, I will say simply. Lagos State government first took the gauntlet by tracking the people Sawyer had contact with, taking quarantine measures and monitoring of the likely patients. FG therefore rolled out health emergency policies and interventions that nipped the virus at the bud.

One fact remains clear. Either by fluke or sheer mastery, a winner in a game deserves commendation and praise. President Jonathan no doubt wins this match — and he deserves accolade. I was thinking Ebola issue will be treated with the insouciance Boko Haram issue was initially handled. I thought President Jonathan would say ‘mere virus’ is not Ebola á la “mere stealing” is not corruption. I thought the federal government would have to wait for three weeks before taking action in the manner of the Chibokgirls abduction. I thought the issue will be seen as “Southern palaver” as Boko Haram was initially seen as ‘Northern palaver’. No. It was considered a national tragedy. Quite rightly, had Ebola started in the North, it would be seen as a mere Northern problem. Travels will be restricted from the North to South. Probably we would have been in a segregationist or apartheid regime today.

By and large, Jonathan deserves commendation for taming the spread of Ebola — much as he deserves condemnation for the spread of Boko Haram terrorism.


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